In 2004, I introduced the first residential minimum energy standards into the Victorian Building Regulations. The stringency level was a very modest four stars based on the emerging NATHERS methodology but was controversial at the time.
As expected, the peak bodies representing builders claimed it would add significant cost to new housing with little benefit and Victoria was criticised for “going it alone” outside of the Building Code of Australia (now the NCC).
In 2006, the ABCB followed Victoria’s lead and adopted minimum standards into the National Code much to the chagrin of many including the Australian Government of the day. Amongst plenty of scaremongering, the death of “the Queenslander” housing style was foreshadowed by one senior Minister.
Of course, history tells us the story that none of the hysteria around the introduction of the standards ever eventuated and that the consumer has benefited massively through energy savings and increased comfort as evidenced by countless studies.
The latter part of the 2000’s was a positive period for the standards as the Code increased to five stars and then six stars in 2010, a pleasing result although still modest by international comparisons.
That was the last time residential standards were altered. If there are changes to the NCC next year as foreshadowed it will have been twelve years since any improvement and already some states have flagged a twelve month transitioning arrangement….so make that thirteen years.
I have been advising for some time that next years proposed changes are by no means certain given the intense politicking occurring behind the scenes.
The release of the so called consultation Regulatory Impact Statement by the ABCB on Monday night would be music to the ears of the forces who would choose to regard minimum standards for residential energy efficiency in the same way they were criticised 17 years ago.
It is hard to fathom that the cost benefit of the proposed seven star standard is estimated to be negative when all previous RIS’s for residential energy efficiency have been positive. Typically, the Office of Best Practice Regulation would only support new standards proceeding if the cost benefit was in the required positive range.
In my mind, the costs are overstated and the benefits significantly understated. There will be plenty of detailed commentary in coming days and weeks.
In the United Nations at the moment we have many world leaders discussing global issues such as the pandemic….and of course climate change.
The built environment has always been a massive part of the solution and in particular how we achieve net zero. Minimum building standards are a part of this response but we must keep this in perspective. This is not the leadership end of the market and, of course, minimum standards are mainly about eliminating “worst practice”. The point is that it’s not a huge stretch to go for six to seven stars.
So if we fail to adopt the proposed seven star standards for housing next year another nail will be driven into the coffin of failing to recognise the benefits of increased stringency in this time of climate emergency.
Tony Arnell has served on the ABCB Board for eleven years and has chaired the World Green Building Council, Green Building Council of Australia and the Energy Efficiency Council.